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					                                    Voice Over IP
                                    By Richard W. Boss


       Despite the fact that telephone calls are less expensive today than they were
before deregulation, budget conscious libraries still seek to reduce their telephone bills so
that they can reallocate the money to other priorities. On of the technologies a number
of them are considering is Voice over IP, more often referred to as VOIP.


       VOIP is a technology that allows one to make telephone calls using a broadband
Internet connection rather than a regular voice-grade telephone line. In the 1990s, VOIP
services only connected their own subscribers to one another, but by 2000 they began to
offer connection to all users of VOIP services. Interoperability among VOIP services
was facilitated by ITU H.323, a standard approved by the International
Telecommunication Union for interoperability in audio, video and data transmission as
well as VOIP. By 2002, most VOIP services also allowed subscribers to call any
conventional telephone number: local, long distance, or mobile.


       Calls may be made using a conventional telephone that is connected to a
computer—usually a PC-- through an adapter (approximately $40) or a special VOIP
telephone ($100 or more). The technology converts the analog voice signal to a digital
one that can then travel over the Internet. If the call is to a conventional telephone, the
signal is converted back to analog at the other end. It is possible to use the computer for
other applications whle talking via a VOIP connection. The computer does not have to
be turned on when making calls with a telephone and adapter or special VOIP telephone,
but the Internet connection needs to be active.


       Services like Skype that allow one to make calls directly from a PC with only a
headest and a microphone are not VOIP services, but PC calling services.




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       All VOIP services offer software that performs the dialing and breakdown of the
voice signals into tiny “packets” of digital data. Most offer the adapter equipment; a few
offer special VOIP telephones; but microphones, speakers, and headsets are not offered.


       The sound quality of VOIP service is generally equal to or superior to that offered
by conventional telephone services. However, there is less redundancy, therefore, it is
not uncommon for service to be lost during periods of Internet overload or severe weather
conditions. A failure of power to the PC would also lead to a loss of service.


       When a VOIP call is made to a conventional telephone that is not connected to the
Internet, the VOIP service must pay a telco for the connection that it provides. The
VOIP services described in this TechNote absorb these costs into their subscription rates.


       Subscribers who want to support several concurrent users can configure their
VOIP service with a router ($30 or more). The router may be wireless, but wireless
routers do no work well in some buildings, therefore, some testing is required before
relying on a wireless router for VOIP.


       The rates of VOIP services are not regulated the way telco rates are, therefore,
there are great differences among the rates charged by various services. There also are
difference in the scope of services. It is important, therefore, to analyze needs and
compare services before signing up for service.


       There were more than 20 VOIP services when the first TechNote on the subject
was written in 2006, but the majority have gone out of business. Only three of these
companies were still in business and offering service to both small and mid-size non-
residential customers as of mid-2009. Two major telcos, AT&T and Verizon, dominated
the large non-residential market.


       The rates that are quoted in the descriptions in the following paragraphs were
those in effect in mid-2009. They are subject to change. The trend is for high-priced



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VOIP service providers to lower their rates and for low-priced VOIP service providers to
raise their rates so that differences will lessen over time.


        AT&T (www.att.com/voip) introduced a business VOIP service in the fourth
quarter of 2005. Rates are quoted only after a potential customer responds to a needs
questionnaire. The business rates appeared to be higher than those of smaller VOIP
service providers, beginning at more than $50 per month as of mid-2009. Many special
features were available at extra cost. AT&T is particularly attractive to large customers
because it offers a PBX-type service.


        Lingo (www.lingo.com) offerred three non-residential plans as of mid-2009. The
value plan was $39.95 per month for 500 minutes in the US, Canada, and Puerto Rico.
For $49.95 per month the number of minutes was increased to 2,000 per month and
several foreing countries were added. For $79.95 per month there was unlimited calling
to more than two dozen countries. All of the plans came with two lines, one of which
could be used as a fax line. One free adapter was included with a plan. Additional lines
were available for $4.95 each per month. There was a $99.95 cancellation fee if the
service was cancelled before the expiration of the two-year contract. All plans included
more than a score of features at not additional cost, including caller ID, conference
calling, and call forwarding.


        Verizon’s (www.verizonbusiness.com) rolled out a comprehensive VOIP service
for business in early 2006. Called Verizon VOIP, it includes a plan for small to mid-size
organizations called IP Flexible T-1. It combines local and domestic long distance with
data services at a fixed monthly rate that are quoted on request. Rates appeared to be
comparable to those quoted by AT&T as of mid-2009, typically beginning at $50 per
month. Customers can dynamically allocate bandwidth to data or telephone traffic.
Rates for large organizations are complex because there are many option, among them
PBX service. All plans include directory assistance and enhanced 911 service access.




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          VOIP.com focuses on non-residential customers that do not require more than
two lines. The unlimited plan was $34.95 per month and an 1800 minute plan was
$24.95 as of mid-2009. There was a $19.95 set-up fee. Calls to the US, Canada, and
Puerto Rico were included. Calls to other countries were billed by the minute. A
customer that wanted more than two lines had to subscribe to multiple plans. There was
a $39.95 cancellation fee after 30 days under the one-year plan. The plans included caller
ID and conference calling at no additional cost.


          Vonage (www.vonage.com) was the largest vendor of VOIP services in the
world as of mid-2009. The small business service was $49.99 per month for unlimited
calling and $39.99 for 1500 minutes of calling in US, Canada and Puerto Rico. The
unlimited service also included France, Ireland, Italy, Spain, and the UK. Each plan
included free activation, shipping, and an adapter. A free fax line was also included.
Additional lines were available at rates that were quoted on request. The minimum as of
mid-2009 was $12.99 per line per month. There was a $39.99 termination charge after 30
days on a one-year commitment. All plans included 25 features at no additional cost,
including caller ID, call waiting, voice mail, and 911 service.


         The VOIP services industry is changing rapidly. It is, therefore, a good idea to
access the Websites of the foregoing vendors for a current comparison of services and
rates.


                                     Prepared by Richard W. Boss, August 31, 2009




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